IMAGE: Rachelle Hacmac
Officer Daryl Turner took office July 23 as president of the Portland Police Association at a crucial time for the powerful, 900-member union.
Last November’s protest rally by cops in front of City Hall, three fatal police shootings this year of mentally ill men, and the ouster of union president Scott Westerman in April over twin road-rage incidents have all eroded public trust.
The situation has calmed since Mayor Sam Adams took control of the Police Bureau in May and appointed Mike Reese as chief. Much of that continued peace will now depend on Turner. The 19-year bureau veteran’s first job will be restarting contract negotiations with the city, which have been stalled since March while the union fights the city’s efforts to make those talks public.
We spoke with Turner about that issue, the bureau’s new leadership and whether his status as the union’s first black president will help cops regain lost trust with African-Americans.
WW: You grew up in Newark during the 1967 riots?
Daryl Turner: I was about 8. I remember exactly what people said—the cops beat up this [black] taxicab driver. I remember that pretty vividly. We just didn’t know what to expect. There were National Guard trucks going up and down the street, and there was a curfew. We had to sleep in the bathtub [for protection].
Now that Portland’s City Council formally approved the Chasse settlement last month, is it time to put debate over that incident behind us?
Any time you have a tragedy like that, it’s hard to talk about moving on. I will say we learned a lot. And I hope [the public] learned the police respond to a huge amount of variety of calls every day. Most of those deal with people with mental-health issues. And the fact that we deal with hundreds of thousands of calls a year, and we had this one-time tragedy happen—hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again.
A one-time tragedy? What about Keaton Otis and Aaron Campbell?
Keaton Otis, obviously he had mental health issues, too. I’m not going to speak on Aaron Campbell since we don’t have all the information in yet. But even his parents said he had mental-health issues and that they were getting worse in the past year or so.
Why is the union resisting making contract negotiations public?
It’s a negotiation between the Portland Police Association and the City of Portland. And for people to be able to sit in, there need to be set guidelines. If we can’t agree on those guidelines, then we can’t go forward: guidelines on the number of people that would be allowed in, guidelines on how close the public can actually be to the negotiation. Obviously, we don’t want people looking over our shoulders at what we’re writing down and what we’re typing on our computers.
In the union newsletter earlier this year, you compared Commissioner Randy Leonard’s efforts to increase police oversight to the Gestapo. Really?
Obviously, I didn’t mean it literally. I don’t think there are really Gestapo stormtroopers coming into the room to torture people. I just think what they were trying to do was overboard.
Were you at the march on City Hall?
I was working that day. [Otherwise] I would have been there.
Do you still think it was a good idea?
Just like anybody else, like the ironworkers, like Copwatch, police should be able to express themselves. Even though we’re here to protect and serve the public, people also have to understand that we need to be out there to protect ourselves and to take care of ourselves. Some of the people who were really upset about it were the same people who [protest] all the time.
What do you think of Mayor Adams so far as police commissioner?
He had a positive start. The press conference he and Chief Reese did after the Keaton Otis shooting I think was more positive than we’ve had in a long time. There are times we won’t agree. But it will always be respectful.
What’s the one thing you’d say to Portlanders who don’t trust the police?
We want the community to have confidence in us. Just give us an opportunity to prove that we do good work every day, because we do. And a lot of people do trust us—it’s not any one group, but it’s just a segment of the community that has that hesitation about calling the police.
Is having a black union president going to help build that trust with African-Americans?
I think it’s a disadvantage more than an advantage. There’s always been a stigma about cops of color, whether they be African-American, Hispanic or Asian. There’s a stigma of trust [among minorities toward police], and you have to earn that trust.